Boston Symphony Orchestra/Frühbeck de Burgos Leif Ove Andsnes

Piano Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.18
Eine Alpensinfonie, Op.64

Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 12 January, 2008
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

Rafael Frühbeck de BurgosFor the second of his two programs with the Boston Symphony this season, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos returned with another Strauss tone poem. (Last week’s program offered two: Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, along with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in Ravel’s orchestration.) This week’s program paired Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony with Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto and included the added attraction of Leif Ove Andsnes as soloist.

Andsnes delivered a musically elegant, technically flawless and highly enjoyable account of the Rachmaninov. His fleet, unmannered playing was marked by a wonderful attention to line and detail and an extraordinary clarity. Under Frühbeck, the BSO, with its lush strings and magnificent woodwinds, provided an ever-persuasive, completely engaged response to Andsnes’s intelligent, sensitive playing, and there were some wonderful touches from both the soloist and the orchestra: the climax of the first movement was broad and powerful, the Adagio rapt in gentle introspection, and the finale spacious but with a sparkling, unforced bravura.Leif Ove Andsnes. Photograph: andsnes.comThere were a few points where the orchestra seemed a bit too loud, but on the whole it served as an excellent and wonderfully lyrical partner. The collaboration between Andsnes and BSO soloists, particularly principal oboe John Ferrillo and principal horn James Sommerville, was splendid. This was a performance that appealed to both the mind and the heart.

In response to a long and enthusiastic standing ovation, Andsnes offered an exquisitely sensitive performance of the first of the four pieces in Janáček’s melancholy suite, In the Mists.

The second half of the program was less satisfying. Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony is full of pictorial detail with many highly evocative themes and ideas, but its melodic invention is not really up to the quality of Strauss’s greatest tone poems. A large-scale, single movement symphonic work, An Alpine Symphony describes a mountaineer’s journey from the bottom to the top of a lofty alpine peak. Scored in 1915, it is about 50 minutes in length and divided into twenty-two sections named by Strauss himself. The first two sections, ‘Nacht’ (Night) and ‘Sonnenaufgang’ (Sunrise) set the scene for the ascent to the top of the mountain; midway through the journey the summit is reached and, following the descent through fog and a raging thunderstorm, the final sections, ‘Ausklang’ (Dying Away of Sound) and the return of ‘Nacht’, serve as a coda to the whole.

Frühbeck, conducting from memory, brought power and conviction to some parts of the score – there was a wonderful tension in the ‘Elegie’ (Elegy) section, and the closing ‘Nacht’ was very touching – but not to the work as a whole. At best, the performance served as a showcase for various sections of the BSO, the horns and brass in particular. The off-stage hunting party in ‘Der Anstieg’ (The Ascent) came off especially well, and the thunderstorm in the last phase of the descent was highly dramatic. But the various parts of the work never coalesced into a wholly effective and convincing interpretation.

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